Experiencing My First Pitch

I’m a bit of an outsider here at Ooligan. I’m not a spy, nor am I here with any other sinister purpose, it’s just that I’m not in the publishing program. I’m a grad student in PSU’s MFA fiction strand. I needed a one-credit course for the term, and the publishing lab looked interesting, so I registered.

In my first class, I experienced my first executive pitch. As a writer, I know a little bit about pitches. Making a pitch is an art form in itself. And it’s a necessary part of the business of writing. If you want to make any money, or at least if you want someone to read what what you’ve written, you have to get published. And to get published, an author has to make pitches.

But this was something new to me: an in-house pitch. Molly and Bess took over the podium at the front of the room. I expected the author to be there, but she wasn’t. That was weird—how could there be a pitch without the author? But Molly and Bess told the class how the book came to Ooligan. The author, Meagan Macvie, attended an Acquisitions Department workshop and shortly afterward gave a direct pitch of her manuscript, Conspiring to be Meri, to Ooligan Press. So the author had been in front of Ooligan, once. Just not now.

Now the team that was working with the manuscript was pitching its publication to the entire staff. Bess and Molly explained that the story takes place in rural Alaska, so it has the Pacific Northwest connection required of Ooligan publications. They also noted the possibility of a bundle with similar books Ooligan has already published in the YA genre. They covered potential profit and loss. They discussed the author’s bio, noting that the author’s short fiction has been published in Narrative, Fugue, and Barrelhouse Online. And they said Conspiring is a debut novel and that the author is excited to work with Ooligan.

Molly and Bess and the rest of the team had clearly put a lot of time and energy into the presentation, leaving me feeling very informed and positive about the book. So much work had obviously gone into the acquisitions process, I figured it was a foregone conclusion that Ooligan was going to publish the book. I was wrong.

Once the presentation was over, it was time for discussion. There were numerous comments in favor of publication, and there were many who were opposed. My hands got a little clammy. This was something serious, after all. Some of the voices against publication were strong, and they had some valid points. (At least to me.) But I was rooting for publication. I thought about the author—her dream of publication; of seeing her novel in print. I looked at Molly and Bess, still standing before the rest of the class, and I thought about all the hard work they had done. Could all their efforts result in failure?

Eventually the discussion ended and everyone who wanted to speak had the opportunity. Then it was time to vote. Ballots were passed out and filled in. Molly and Bess gathered them up and left the room. Soon afterward, they returned and announced the vote: eight opposed, and over thirty in favor. I could breathe again. But I probably shouldn’t have been so worried. I asked Molly later if an executive pitch had ever been voted down, and she said that it has not yet happened at Ooligan Press. It happens quite often at larger publishing houses, she said, and admitted that it is not a given that every manuscript pitched at Ooligan will be published.

Ooligan Press will continue to grow, its reputation will gain strength, and eventually it will have so many manuscripts to choose from that some will be voted down after an executive pitch. That leaves me torn. One one hand, I hope that day comes soon, but on the other hand I pity the author whose manuscript is the first to get that far, only to be voted down.

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